Doyle takes unconventional route to Rockies
Colorado's new hitting coach brings high-energy approach to teaching
MIAMI -- Being one himself, Rockies manager Walt Weiss doesn't mind making an out-of-the box hire.
The Rockies targeted him while he was the head baseball coach at Regis Jesuit High School before last season. One of Weiss' first moves was to reach out to Blake Doyle, whom he brought in as a hitting consultant.
With his older brother, Denny, and his twin, Brian, both former Major Leaguers, Doyle spent 36 years helping run a baseball school in Orlando, Fla., working with children and big leaguers alike.
Doyle would make periodic trips to Denver to observe the Rockies and occasionally to talk to players. When Dante Bichette resigned as hitting coach at the end of last season to spend time with his family, Weiss recalled the energy Doyle showed in a consultant's job, and he hired him to replace Bichette.
At 60, Doyle had not worked as a full-time coach for a Major League team, and his playing career was limited to the Minors. But Weiss is banking on Doyle's passion and teaching skills to help an offense that traditionally performs big at home and struggles away from Coors Field. The season starts Monday night at Miami.
"The phrase I like to use is he's going to bleed with the players," Weiss said. "From a player's perspective, that's really what they're looking for from a coach. That's what he does really well, on top of his knowledge of the game."
Doyle is not typical of those running a batting cage.
He was the one who converted a 14-year-old student who had come to his school from Suffern (N.Y.) High School -- named Walt Weiss -- from pitcher to shortstop immediately upon seeing him in a pitcher's fielding drill. All along, he kept a hand in the pro game. He has worked as a player agent. Had Orlando succeeded in its bid to land an expansion team in 1993, he would most likely have been the assistant general manager.
Doyle's connections are current. Former Rockies infielder Jeff Baker, who may start for the Marlins on Monday, was once a student at Doyle's school, as was the D-backs' new hitting coach, Turner Ward.
But being a part of the Rockies last year redirected Doyle's passion.
"I was coming in and out, seeing the passion in Walt's eyes and in his heart when we talk," Doyle said. "The man wants to do one thing, and that's win. He was like me, and I was like him. He did not seek this job. There had to be something to push him into it, get him away from his family. I knew what it is, exactly what. He knew what was going to make me, too; that was the competition.
"I saw not just the frustration of last year. I saw the jubilation, the winning in the first part of the season. Guys were going, 'Yeah.'"
Now Doyle's passion is helping a team of star hitters -- Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer started the All-Star Game last year -- and other talented players find offensive consistency without being overbearing in his coaching methods.
Doyle began winning players over in Spring Training by asking questions.
"My job is not fix swings or tell them, 'Here's what you're doing wrong,'" Doyle said. "My job is to be the guy they can come back to and says, 'Now you know my swing, you know my routine, what are you seeing different?' Let's get back to what's right. We can go crazy trying to figure out what you're doing incorrectly. You may never figure out what was incorrect. Who cares? Now we're back doing the right thing again. Every hitter is different. That's why it takes time to build a relationship."
At the Major League level, a hitting coach has to adapt to the individual. A coach with a blanket philosophy on routine and swing fundamentals has little chance. Among the Rockies, Nolan Arenado analyzes his swing mechanics, but Cuddyer pays little attention to mechanics and searches for the right feel. Tulowitzki, when he has the right feel, concentrates largely on checkmating the pitcher.
But given the way pitches act on the road versus at altitude, and the yearly discrepancies in the splits, could the Rockies be an exception and in need of some kind of macro approach?
"That's what a lineup is for," said Cuddyer, who said he was impressed with Doyle's work throughout Spring Training to get to know players as hitters and people. "You don't want nine of the same hitters. You want nine guys that have different attributes. So you can't just make one general plan for the team.
"Our mindset every at-bat should be with the idea of scoring runs for the team, not for your individual statistics, not for your individual numbers. 'What is my job right now to help us be a better offensive team?' If you do that, your instincts will take over."
But Doyle said there was room to espouse Weiss' simple, team-oriented philosophy -- when a runner reaches, pushing him across home plate is the top priority. He says he reinforces it in gentle, informal conversations in the dugout, in the hallways, in meetings, without restricting hitters.
"There are two types of competition," Doyle said. "One is that guy out there on the mound and me. There is a time when you have to separate that competition. Yes, we're still competing, and I'm going to beat you, but here's how I'm going to beat you now. It's a different way of beating you than just going up there and pounding the ball."
Doyle is taking over the most volatile job on the Rockies' staff. Since Duane Espy had the job from 2003-06, Doyle is the fifth to hold it. None of his predecessors lasted more than two seasons.
"It's kind of a revolving door," he said. "It's not a pressure; it's a challenge. These professionals, Tulowitzki, CarGo, Cuddyer, [Justin] Morneau, I know for a fact they don't just want to put up numbers. They want to win."